Is Samsung's Milk Music the Next Canary in the Coal Mine?

Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia
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Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia

The tech giant is pulling its streaming service from Australia.

Cutting one’s losses might be the future of digital music.  

Australia will soon have one fewer music streaming service for its 23 million residents. Samsung announced Monday it will retire Milk Music just over a year after its launch in the world’s sixth largest digital music market. Subscribers to Milk Premium, the paid version of the service, will be given three free months at Google Play Music.

Samsung hasn’t been successful with its entertainment services. In 2014 it shut down two-year-old Music Hub, the download store and cloud-based locker service that was Samsung’s version of Apple’s iTunes Music Store-iTunes Match combination. Video discovery service Milk Video was shut down in November.

But Samsung’s decision to close Milk Music in just one market is unusual. Usually a service shuts down globally rather than in select countries. Japanese messaging service Line chose last month to shut down MixRadio in all 31 markets. U.S.-based Rdio had been available in 100 markets, including Australia, but filed for bankruptcy in November. Going back further, Sony opted to shut down its Music Unlimited service in January 2015.

This kind of digital attrition is far from a surprise. Jackie Krajl, founder of the digital agency DigiRascal and former iTunes Australia launch executive, told Billboard in September some services would abandon Australia in the next five years. "Too many services, not enough people," she said. Indeed, it hasn’t taken long for Australia’s music streaming market to thin out. This month, the small country (in population, not geography) also lost JB Hi Fi’s “Now,” a local streaming service offered by a national retailer.

The truth is there is only so much room for music streaming services. Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Rhapsody and Tidal are trying to grab a larger share of a growing global market. Some other services have smaller ambitions. KKBox is available in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and three other Asian markets. Saavn wants to dominate demand for Bollywood and other Indian music. Australian company Guvera has recently began to focus on India, too.

With so much competition, a “less is more” approach could be the future of music. A service with a global reach might need to step away from the more hotly contested markets. As Kenny Rogers sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em.”


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